Recently, checking my mailbox, I saw that I bought Desktop Dungeons eight years ago. I'd heard a lot of people talk about it at that time, the emergence of indie games where we could see the release of the great representatives of the genre; games like Braid, Super Meat Boy or Castle Crashers.
Desktop Dungeons was my first contact with the so-called roguelike, a genre well known today but somewhat less popular for the large masses of players at that time. These games were characterised by the randomness of each game, a higher than normal difficulty, permanent death and (if necessary) a gameplay more worked than the graphic aspect.
The game consisted of taking turns advancing through randomly generated dungeons, confronting randomly positioned enemies and being very careful in the order of confrontation since they could have a much higher level than yours and if you approached without having prepared beforehand, you wouldn't last them two swords. With such a simple mechanics and very fair graphics, I spent hours and hours exploring the dungeons and discovering the secrets they hid.
image: Nuclear Throne/ Vlambeer.
After Desktop Dungeons, there were classics like The Binding of Isaac or Faster Than Light. But it was in 2013 when it would arrive the one that for many is the jewel of the crown of the roguelikes, Nuclear Throne (Dead Cells and others could also occupy that position, that we are not angry nobody).
Developed by Vlambeer, a tiny Dutch studio composed only of Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman, and using Game Maker as a game engine they managed to create what would be a real revelation in Steam's early access program. It wouldn't be until two years later when its development would be finished and they had already produced wonders like Super Crate Box, a free game in Steam that offers devilishly fast and addictive games.
A throne between rubble and debris
But let's focus on Nuclear Throne. The plot of the game, simple in appearance, starts from a nuclear apocalypse after which the Earth changed completely and humans, animals and robots have become mutants. Over the years, a legend appeared on a nuclear throne in a mysterious palace that would be the key to regaining stability on the planet.
Little by little, the different races of the world sent representatives to check if the legend was true. As we have already said, the history of Nuclear Throne seems simple, but it hides countless secrets that we will hardly know if we only play without consulting some of the many guides that roam the Internet.
Image: Nuclear Throne/ Vlambeer.
Being faithful to one of the basic rules of the roguelike, each game is different from the previous one. Although we always start at the same level and go from one to the other in order (unless we take shortcuts), the structure of these will always be different; the levels will never be repeated, so we can never know where the enemy is lurking. It also changes the position where the coffers with weapons or life and the jars of radioactive waste appear.
These jars allow characters to level up and each time we do, we are given the option of choosing one of three different mutations. These genetic alterations in the character will change when choosing them and vary from a wide range of options: more life, greater likelihood of finding weapons, more precision when shooting, the ability for enemies to suffer damage when they touch us... Nuclear Throne offers an extensive collection of skills that can be combined between them, so we must plan a strategy to see which ones we should choose if we already have others.
Image: Nuclear Throne/ Vlambeer.
As an addition, in some levels we will find portals that allow us to access the Crown Vault, a temple where we will be able to find (surprise, surprise) crowns that will give us access to more different abilities. The grace of these objects is that they carry a negative counterpoint, because they can make them stop appearing coffers with weapons or that these become cursed coffers.
If all these elements of customization were not enough, each character we can choose at the beginning of the game has two unique abilities. Yung Venuz shoots faster and can make a double shot, Crystal starts with more life and can generate a protective shield, Chicken starts with a katana and can survive when he is killed running (literally) like a headless chicken... Each character has its particularities so different players will feel more comfortable with one type or another, but you always have to try them all even once.
Nuclear Throne is also famous for hiding many secrets and challenges that will keep any player entertained for months or even years. Some allow you to unlock new characters, while others allow you to get to know previously hidden areas.
To mention a few: if you don't destroy any waste container during the first levels you will face Horror, if you carry a screwdriver and hit a particular car in the Frozen City you access the level of the Yung Venuz mansion and if in the sewers you use a grenade with the only round cover that there is, you discover a level with four turtles and a rat (clear reference to the Ninja Turtles and Master Splinter).
Image: Nuclear Throne/ Vlambeer.
And if we talk about a roguelike feature, we cannot fail to mention the battles with final bosses, characters you hate with all your strength at a level similar to that of any rival of Dark Souls. The confrontations that will take place during the game will be against Big Bandit in the desert, Big Dog in the dump, Lil Hunter (how I hate you...) in the Frozen City and with the Nuclear Throne in the palace.
This is precisely where the big secret of the video game hides: if you can defeat the throne and destroy the four reactors you can loop back to the beginning of the game (in the same game) but with substantial differences such as different weapons, stronger enemies or new final bosses.
Much more than a pixel art game
We have mentioned the main elements that make up the world of Nuclear Throne, but we have not forgotten many other important details that help shape the whole and create one of the best experiences you can find in an indie game: music and playability. The OST is by Jukio Kallio, with cool melodies that help shape great pixel art graphics and can be found for free on Spotify.
On the other hand, the controls have a simple and cool implementation that helps you feel, from the first game, that you have the situation under control and that if we are killed is our fault. This will make us want to start a new game immediately and we can spend hours playing, as it is very easy to fall on the hook of Nuclear Throne without even realising it.
Someone once said "ask me a couple of times and I might tell you it's the GOTY of all time"; and if you think about it, it's not a phrase said lightly. Nuclear Throne hides a thousand details, a thousand hours of fun and a thousand secrets that every player must experience in the first person. If you haven't already done so, we can only recommend that Nuclear Throne be the next title on your Steam list ("Run, you fools!").